It is natural to be angry and upset when you are served with an anti-harassment petition. Some people might act before thinking and seek to contact the petitioner. (The petitioner is the person asking the court for an order. You, the person defending against the order, is the respondent.) Along with the petition, you should have been served with a temporary order. The temporary order may prohibit you from contacting the petitioner in any way, including going near the petitioner, sending emails, telephoning or asking others to do those things. It is very easy to not think clearly when you are upset, to violate the temporary order, and to find yourself with a serious criminal problem. Don't go there.
Determine Hearing Date
The day the petitioner filed the petition and got a temporary order, a hearing date was set. The hearing date is the day you must attend court to defend against the requested relief. You will want to get sufficient time off from work to attend court as soon as possible. You can find the date of the hearing on the temporary order.
Contact an Attorney
There are many potential issues regarding things like venue, jurisdiction, evidence, notice and local rules that an attorney can assess the importance of in your particular case. Many attorneys give a free initial consultation. You will need to contact an attorney quickly because your hearing is usually two weeks or less from the time you are served, and getting an appointment may be difficult. An attorney can also analyze whether the facts in your case are likely to result in the petitioner succeeding under the law of anti-harassment, help you determine when your response is due, help you prepare an effective response, and help you prepare properly for court.
Determine whether you care if the order is put into place
The petition should detail what the petitioner is seeking. You may not care if the order is put into place. Even if that is the case, it might be wise to attend the hearing so that an order worse than the one requested is not put into place. If you do care if the order is put into place then you need to defend yourself or hire an attorney to help you.
Analyze whether the petitioner has a good case
Just because the petitioner obtained a temporary order does not mean that the court will grant the petitioner a similar order, for a longer period, at the hearing. The petitioner has the burden to prove the elements of harassment by a preponderance of the evidence. The elements the petitioner has to prove include 1) that you acted knowingly and willfully 2) that there was a "course of conduct" 3) that your acts were directed at the petitioner 4) that the acts seriiously alarm, annoy, harass or is detrimental to the petitioner and 5) your acts serve no legitimate or lawful purpose. See RCW 10.14.020(1). Knowing that these are the things the petitioner has to prove, will guide you regarding what information you present. A course of conduct means a series of acts evidencing a continuity of purpose. The petitioner needs to prove not only that the conduct caused the petitioner distress but that it would cause a reasonable person substantial emotional distress
Assess your possible defenses
Of course you will want to testify about what is untrue or inaccurate in the petitioner's rendition of the facts. Are there documents or other witnesses who can verify your version of the facts? If yes, you should consider whether you can present the witness live at the hearing or through a written document called a declaration. Your defenses can include showing that the petitioner did not present enough evidence to establish the previously discussed elements and presenting information to show your acts served a legitimate purpose. In assessing what occurred, the court may consider a) whether the contact was initiated by the respondent or both parties, b) whether the petitioner made it clear no further contact was wanted and c) whether your conduct appears designed to alarm, annoy or harass the petitioner.
Respond in writing to petition
Many respondents do not respond to the allegations in writing. It is easier to be clear in writing. You should carefully refute anything that is untrue or inaccurate. It is best to get your points across in as many ways as possible, by a written testimony and by your oral testimony at the hearing. The written information should declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of Washington that it is true and of course it should be true. It may be wise to give some background. You may want an attorney to review the writing so it is logical, concise, does not make your case worse and does not contain hearsay or have other evidentary problems.
Draft a motion regarding evidence
The rules of evidence need not apply to these hearings but the court may apply the rules of evidence. See ER 1101(c)(4). Depending on what the petitioner presented to obtain the tempoary order, you may consider a written motion to ask the court to apply the rules of evidence and the bases you have for excluding information. You will probably need to have an attorney help you with this step.
Prepare for court
Court is a scary situation for untrained people. You should practice what you're going to say. One of the hardest things is not saying things that make the situation worse. Also difficult, is being able to hear and respond to new and unexpected information the petitioner brings up unexpectedly at the hearing. You should dress up, think about your non-verbal communication and not show your anger, frustration and disgust. Many times respondents interrupt the judge, speak when it is not their turn, shake their heads and generally act disrespectfully of the court or the petitioner. Often, this behavior influences the judge unconsciously and sabotages your likelihood of success.
File a timely appeal
If you do not like the decision at the hearing, you can ask that judicial officer to reconsider. If the judicial officer is a commissioner, you can ask for the matter to be reviewed by a judge. You can appeal to the court of appeals. However, you have severe time limits for all of these steps and so you should investigate your appeal options immediately after the hearing. Of course, your chances of success on appeal, depend a great deal on how well you prepared for and performed at the hearing.
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